THE SLOW REVEAL OF BIGOTED FRIENDS

How can you be friends with someone for years, maybe even decades, and not realise uncomfortable aspects of their personalities? Their views on the world, their take on current world events based on their prejudices?

From what I’ve discovered over recent years, it’s very easy. I know a handful of people I am friends with who have expressed opinions based on racial and cultural bigotry. People I have laughed with, shared warm experiences with, and have fond and happy memories with that go back to my youth.

But now, thanks to that powder keg of self-expression called social media, I have been shocked in the last few years by comments from some friends that show a basic lack of compassion towards those fleeing persecution, and those with a different cultural heritage and skin colour.

For clarification, I’m only talking about a very small number and none express any kind of violence or social uprising towards anyone. But when faced with statements made based on deep ignorance, it’s hard not to be affected.

Recently someone told me that he has friends who are black, but due to a lack of sun living in the UK is simply not good for their skin, that they should be in a climate more suited to their pigmentation. When I called out this out as ridiculous and ultimately racist, he was aghast as to why – even though he added that they were friends who he “wouldn’t want living next door”.

He was genuinely perplexed as to why he would be considered a racist, that he was just expressing ‘fact’, not hatred. I have been friends with this person, on and off, for nearly forty years without any indication he had such views.

THE MIGRATION MINEFIELD

The number of people seeking migration in other countries is a huge problem throughout the world, and its root causes such as poverty and oppression are deep, and it’s difficult to see any resolution. Opinion on how to deal with it, particularly when society is fundamentally affected by huge numbers of people seeking asylum, are varied and complex.

However, when people I thought I knew well post statements that all migrants filling an overloaded dinghy to navigate a treacherous sea crossing are criminals, it is hard not to be taken aback.

So how then, should I deal with this? The straightforward answer is these people should not have any place in my life. Why would I want to stay on friendly terms with people so intolerant and lacking in basic compassion?

In the past I have entered into online arguments that been long and protracted and difficult, and ultimately unproductive as both sides have become more deeply entrenched in our views. Then I chose not to engage, not to credit such outlandish views worthy of debate. However turning away also however also felt like appeasement.

So, I just have to ‘unfriend’ or disconnect with such people, right? Get rid of them out of my life.

But I have struggled with this. If it was an acquaintance, or someone I had only met online, it would be simple. History with a person makes it more nuanced, more complicated. Is there another way?

THE POWER OF SUGGESTION

Lately I have ‘suggested’ a different view, rather than to confront. This has worked to an extent by taking one person away from being defensive and acknowledging my point.

Whichever way nothing feels completely comfortable and if faced with deeper extremes I am confident I would shut off contact. In the meantime I continue to fudge the issue, hoping my experience of their better natures will ultimately outweigh the troubling parts of their character that occasionally rises to the surface.

14 thoughts on “THE SLOW REVEAL OF BIGOTED FRIENDS

  1. I struggle with this as well. A friend I have had all my life sent me an offensive and extremely racist cartoon a few years back. I had to confront her and ask her to please not send me this sort of thing as I have friends from that culture and find these jokes/cartoons offensive and disrespectful. I didn’t hear from her for a while and decided that that was probably the end of our friendship. But a few months later I got a friendly email from her and we have stayed in touch ever since. She probably has not changed her views, but she has never sent me anything racist again. I guess in order to be a tolerant person we have to tolerate the intolerant. But they do need to know how we feel about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you have re-established your friendship again, albeit with new boundaries set by you having the courage of your convictions.

      I too have had similar experiences though the friendships has not got fully back to where it was previously. I’ve learned if it’s on a social media platform it’s probably best to send a private message rather than keep it on a public forum where it can get uglier.

      But you’re absolutely right Darlene when you say in order to be a tolerant person we have to tolerate the intolerant. It’s a balance that can be so hard to get right.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree. Fortunately, this was all done via email. It can get very ugly on social media. Good luck with the balancing. I’m still working on it. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thoughtful post, Paul. I pride myself on getting along with just about everybody, but I especially struggle with those whose bigoted views make that nearly impossible. Engage them in a debate? That usually turns out pointless. Unfriend them? I don’t like doing that either because we can’t run from everyone with dissimilar views. What happens more often than not is it changes the friendship. We don’t hang out like we used to. Maybe this isn’t the mature way to handle things either, but it’s hard to be friends with someone with such narrow-minded views.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right Pete, it changes the friendship, makes it less easy to be with them. I manage on the whole to have these friendships ticking along in neutral, but know they’re unlikely to get back to how they used to be.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My rule is, when my friends say “stupid” things, I always state my point of view. For strangers, most times I ignore them, unless it’s too much to stay silent. I must say lately, it’s getting harder to stay silent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean. They want you to react, but we don’t want to give them the satisfaction. But instinctively we don’t want a lie, or plain ignorance, to go unchallenged. Strangers I can ignore, but when friends do it, I find it more difficult. We just have to hold onto our truth, I suppose.

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  4. I think worse still is when a family member does or says something that you find offensive. You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. I’ve witnessed many family arguments that do so much damage over the years.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I really don’t know what to say to that Hugh, other than I understand now why you stay away..

        Like

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